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Jayne Hayes - A Life Gone to the Dogs


My life has gone to the dogs

By BECKY SHEAVES
10th August 2006

She's sacrificed her 13-bed manor house, her fiance and her savings...all to track down kidnapped dogs. So is Jayne a saint or barking mad?


Today, Jane Hayes lives alone four miles from Hermiston in a rented three-bedroom bungalow. She is down to her last 34,000 and is considering selling her last antique Chesterfield sofa to make ends meet.

Yet, just four weeks ago, she ran a successful business, lived with her devoted and wealthy boyfriend and, all in all, had a lifestyle to envy.


Woman with a mission: Dog lover Jayne with two of her pets

Jayne' s abrupt descent into singledom and poverty is an extraordinary tale of one woman' s devotion to that most British of pastimes: being a dog lover.

Single-handedly, she set up a website to reunite missing pets with their owners. She also runs a helpline which she mans all day every day for frantic dog owners who have lost their beloved pets.
And at a time when dog-napping has become a widespread crime, Jayne' s website - DogLost.co.uk - is providing an increasingly vital service.


It receives four million hits a month and has 100 lost or stolen dogs added to its database every week.
' It' s my life,' Jayne says simply, sitting surrounded by Missing Dog posters and clutching her beloved miniature French bulldog, Hermy.

' I' ve got 2,300 people registered with me who are looking for their dogs. The RSPCA uses the website, Battersea Dogs Home uses it. I can' t abandon the people who rely on me.

' I know from first-hand experience just how devastating losing your dog can be. And with dog theft absolutely rife in this country, I' m their only hope. How could I walk away from that responsibility?'
But Jayne' s mission has cost her, quite literally, everything. She has lost her home; her share in the events business she used to run with her partner Tim Bristow, 46; and last but not least, Tim himself.
He has ended their 11-year relationship, saying her ' obsession' with finding lost or stolen dogs had taken over their lives.

But for all that she has sacrificed, Jayne is unrepentant. ' I would do it all again,' she says. ' I' m devastated to lose the home I loved, and, yes, Tim and I would still be together if it wasn't for the website, I know that. I've lost the man I loved and, to be honest, still love.

' I've cried into my pillow so many nights, but when it came to the crunch, I just had to do what I believed was right.

' Every time I look at my own little dog, who was stolen and returned to me, I know I have to help others in the same predicament.'

Jayne' s relationship with Tim, a wealthy businessman, began 11 years ago -- just after he' d been through a divorce. They met at a dinner party in Northamptonshire.

' He was very self-assured and really too arrogant for me,' admits Jayne with a wry smile. ' But over the next few weeks he found excuses to pop in and see me when he was in London on business and gradually we fell in love.'

Initially, they divided their time between Tim' s Northamptonshire home and Jayne' s in London. As their relationship progressed, they decided to buy a house together.

Hermiston Hall was a real find and Tim and I bought it together in 1999,' says Jayne, ' Of course, Tim' s share was far larger than mine, and when we sold it for 3650,000, very little was left for me as I' d already sold the coach house to fund the website.

' It is devastating to lose it now. We were once so happy there.' Jayne' s obsession with finding dogs began four years ago when Hermy, then two years old, was stolen.

' I used to let our three dogs out of the back door at 8am,' she explains. ' It used to be a great game for them to run all the way round to the front to greet our gardener arriving for work, who used to reward the winner with a biscuit.

' What happened on May 9, 2002, is etched in my memory. I let the dogs out the back, walked through the house, picked up the front-door key from the hook by the Aga, and there on the front doorstep were only two dogs waiting. Hermy was gone.

' That day, we were putting on a ball in aid of a local hospice so the next few hours were frantic. By nightfall, Hermy was still not back and I was getting seriously worried.

'As the party-goers were dancing away, I was out with a torch looking down rabbit holes and searching outbuildings.

' Even though Hermy had cost Tim \'a3900, it didn't cross my mind that someone could have stolen her. I just thought she had got herself lost somehow.' For the next six weeks, Jayne hardly slept or ate while she tried everything she could think of to find Hermy. She was horrified to discover that provision for finding a lost dog was, to say the least, patchy.

' I was only allowed to deal with the dog warden from one area, even though we lived 50 yards from the boundary of the next county,' she remembers.

Rescue centres seemed to be completely disorganised. I'd ring every day and yet they' d have no record of my previous calls. And the police didn't want to know.

' In the end, I was nailing up yet another lost dog notice when a woman walking her dog noticed I was in floods of tears. She kindly took one of my posters, and promised to photocopy it and put some up in her home area.

' Her daughter worked in a veterinary practice 12 miles away and one of her clients saw the poster and recognised Hermy.

'She rang me and explained that, as a dog lover, she' d been puzzled by the fact that some kids hanging about in Worksop had been able to afford a valuable and rare French bull terrier.'

Jayne and Tim then mounted a dramatic rescue, which culminated in Tim driving his 4x4 up a pedestrian street in the centre of Worksop and snatching Hermy back from the teenagers outside a bank.

' We could get no support from the police, so we took the law into our own hands,' says Jayne, displaying some of her characteristically gung-ho spirit. ' But someone thought Tim was stealing Hermy and he was nearly arrested.'

Piecing the story together, Jayne now believes that Hermy was stolen by some teenage Irish travellers who had knocked on her door the day before she disappeared.

' They' d been asking where the nearest garage was. We were a mile off the road, so it seemed a bit odd - but it wasn' t until much later that the penny dropped.

' Later, we found out from the police that Hermy had been sold on in pubs for a fraction of her real value three or four times in the first week she went missing.

'In inner cities, drug addicts use these dogs as currency to buy their next fix. ' When she got home, she was a changed little creature - her sparkle had gone and she' d lost all her trust. It took months to get her to relax.'

But where many people would simply be grateful for the safe return of their pet, Jayne was unable to get the ordeal out of her mind.

' I realised that dog theft was a huge and growing problem. Where once petty criminals used to take bicycles or mobile phones, it was so much easier to take a dog - and almost impossible to prove it.
'All the thief has to do is say that they found the dog straying. The police just can' t make a conviction stick.

' And the business of extorting money from dog owners has really taken off. Criminals steal the dog, wait for the Missing posters to go up, and then demand money for their safe return. I' ve heard of people paying up to \'a34,000 in cash to get their pets back.

' In my naivety, never having switched on a computer in my life, I thought I' d set up a website and helpline for people in my position. I thought it would only take about five minutes a week.

' Within a year, it had completely snowballed, which took its toll on our private life. My only subject of conversation was dogs and Tim just got fed up with it.

'Instead of wanting friends to stay for the weekend, I' d spend the whole time in my office working.
' I didn' t have any time to give to the events business and kept refusing to do the weddings. It all became very difficult.

' Tim' s not used to playing second fiddle to anyone and we had some blistering rows. We had been about to plan our own wedding, but we ended up barely speaking. And in a house that size, it was all too easy to avoid each other.

' Once, I was live on local radio doing a phone-in about the website when Tim stormed into my office and said we needed to talk. He wouldn't wait and the whole argument was broadcast. Obviously, we couldn't go on like that.

' What' s more, as a businessman, Tim could see the website' s potential for making money and he was frustrated that I refused to charge anything. I couldn't - not even to pay myself a salary.
' In the end, he gave me an ultimatum: the dogs or him. But I had no choice - the dogs had to come first.

' It' s been painful, but the crazy thing is we' re getting on better now that we've separated the finances and live apart.

'He comes up every fortnight to visit Hermy, so perhaps we might be able to work things out, who knows?' For all the turmoil in her love life, Jayne' s priority is still her website -- even through financial ruin is staring her in the face.

She now employs two full-time staff and the whole operation costs her about 33,000 a month to run. The 31,000 in donations she gets each month from grateful dog owners doesn't even cover her expenses, let alone provide her with a living income.

She has been approached by the same venture capitalists who transformed Friends Reunited from a kitchen table operation to a multi-million pound business, but Jayne walked out when they started talking about making profits.

In defiance of all common sense, she is determined to go it alone. She has steadily spent her capital and is now almost totally penniless.

' Two years ago, I sold the coach house to Hermiston Hall and ploughed all the money into the website. It was meant to be my pension, but all the money has gone. I've got just \'a34,000 left in Premium Bonds, which I' m about to cash in too.

' Tim' s infuriated and frustrated with me. But I' m so busy I can barely think straight. All I know is that I depend on everyone' s goodwill for the website to work and I cannot ask for money from people. It would ruin the whole ethos of DogLost.'

To date, she and her team of 14,000 volunteers have reunited 2,600 dogs with their owners. Currently, they are seeking the owners of more than 1,000 dogs registered on the site and helping 2,300 people to find lost pets.

Every time a dog goes missing, Jayne posts its details and picture on the website. All her local volunteers are then alerted to look out for the missing pet in their area. Email forums and chatrooms support dog owners.

It is clear that the site is much-loved by what Jayne calls ' the doggy community' . But with her money running out and no business plan in hand, one wonders just how long Jayne Hayes can continue to run her particularly British one-woman crusade.

Jayne's website can be found at www.DogLost.co.uk 

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